In every part of the world one sees huge hoardings on the highways, motorways and on internal roads in towns and cities advertising various goods and services. With the advent of modern technology most of the hoardings have gone high-tech. Quite often these hoardings and bill boards gel with the ambiance of a place. On highways these are placed in such a way that these do not jar but go with the landscape. However, in our case there is a total mess and these advertisements and sign boards create such a jumbling and displeasing impact that one’s mind goes crazy! Here, the only consideration of various civic organisations is to collect as much revenue as they can without bothering about the ambiance or the look of a place.
Advertising is now a colossal business. In fact, in their race to outdo each other the advertising companies go berserk and forget all norms of environment, ecology, and ambiance of a place. One sees walls and lamp posts painted over in most of the places. They have no consideration whether a landmark gets defaced or not. However, one would not expect same type of behaviour from the government agencies assigned the task of keeping various areas clean and presentable. In fact, they have to ensure that the private players follow some norms and regulations in regard to use of spaces for advertising. There are many civic laws allowing them to control these activities.
The only person who tried to bring some order in this disorder of advertising and display was the Governor Jagmohan. In his first tenure he really acted as a town planner and tried to bring some order in this mad rush of display and the chaos of bill boards and sign boards. He was also responsible for taking some positive steps as a town planner. He initiated the mechanised macadamization of some roads which lasted for more than 20 years. He set up walkways along Lidder in Pahalgam and also took many other measures for beautification of the landscape. It was his misfortune that he turned into an ardent follower of Hindutva during his second tenure and had an ungraceful exit. It would have been a positive step if our planners and custodians of civic facilities had followed his example given by him in his first tenure. They could still take on these measures but now things seem to have drastically changed because of an insatiable lust for money and power which has crept into our society. Morality, honesty, fair play, ethics and decency seem to have disappeared from this place! There is only one mantra followed by one and all: money, money, and money!
The most annoying aspect of the defacement is the eagerness of some government departments and officials to take individual credit for setting up or creating certain facilities and landmarks. One starkly visible instance is the putting up Victorian style lamp posts of cast iron along the Bund or on some posh area roads. These look very elegant reminding one of the days of the British Raj. However, every lamp post bears a small blue sign board to indicate that these were put up by the Tourism department. This has completely destroyed the Victorian ambiance of these lamp posts. Similar is the case with all the traffic lights. At each crossing there is a small sign to tell us that these were put up by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). There are many other such instances where various government departs have put of small signs to take credit for these. Instead of giving credit, they should be hauled up for defacing these landmarks and destroying their ambiance. Incidentally, in some cases even individuals for planning and executing these landmarks are mentioned by name! Recently, some telecom companies went berserk and painted all shop shutters red with their ads. There is another aspect to this signage especially the glow sign type. It is big business. Putting these up costs quite a bit of money. In fact, the entire advertising field is full of money shared between various stakeholders.
Another aspect of defacing which one should not forget pertains to general landscape. The railways can take credit for destroying many hill features near the track from Qazigund to Baramulla. These hillocks were completely destroyed by taking earth filling for the track. This was done by the greedy locals against huge amounts of money. Same is the situation in regard to stone quarrying done in a number of places including in the mountains near the entry to the city of Srinagar at Pandhchok.
However, the mother of all defacements of the landscape was the slogans carved out by the army personnel on the hills above Badami Bagh Cantonment. They had earlier taken up a road to the top and put up quite a few constructions. One cannot question them for violating several norms involved in constructing a hill road and putting up constructions for “security reasons”. Well, security is the top most consideration. However, defacing the mountainside with slogans does not have any security value. Being experts in camouflage, one would have expected them to cover the scars of road and the buildings in green/yellow to blend with the landscape. On the contrary they had carved outthe slogans which should have been addressed to the Chinese. They were proudly taking credit for the defacement of the beautiful hills! The Divisional Administration, on Chief Minister’s bidding, is reported to have served them a notice for defacing the hill side so brazenly. It has now been reported that the slogans have been removed. Well done, local administration. However, could same prompt action be taken for other defacements?
Seeing this chaos and madness, one is reminded about the visit of a French journalist group to Kashmir sometime back. They were thrilled by the noise, chaos, and madness in the city of Srinagar. They remarked that it is the liveliest city they had seen! It has life and variety. Everything in their part of the world was calm and orderly. So chaos, disorder and noise may be our next USP (Unique selling proposition) for our tourism marketing bosses!